54 Years After His Death, Lost Dog Tags Returned To Fallen Marine’s Family

(Left to right) Jean Sterling, Carolyn Jernigan, and Kaye Stafford, all first cousins of the late Lance Corporal Harold Vernon Dayringer Jr. of Benson who died in a military plane crash in 1965 while serving in Vietnam are presented with his lost dog tags.  They were presented to his family by retired US Army Veteran Rudy Baker during the 2019 Memorial Day Ceremony on May 27 at the Johnston County Courthouse in Smithfield after being found earlier this month. JoCoReport.com

Memorial Day 2019 will be one that the family of a fallen Johnston County Marine will never forget.

The lost dog tags of Lancr Corporal Harold Vernon Dayringer Jr. of Benson were presented to his surviving family members during the Memorial Day ceremony at the Johnston County Courthouse in Smithfield on May 27, 2019. They were presented in the same wore zip lock bag in which they were found. JoCoReport.com Photo

Lance Corporal Harold Vernon Dayringer Jr. of Benson graduated from Benson High School. Afterwards he went to work as a brick mason. He married the former Janie Jernigan of Route 2, Benson.

In February 1962, at the age of 19, he entered the Marines.  He trained as a mechanic and was stationed at Camp LeJeune, California, Hawaii, and Okinawa. In 1965, at age 22, he was serving in Vietnam with the 3rd Anti-Tank Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Marine Amphibious Forces.  Harold and some other troops had gone to Hong Kong for a few days of rest and relaxation before returning to the battlefront.

On August 24, 1965, while flying back in a four-engine Marine transport plane, it crashed into Hong Kong Harbor. Eyewitnesses said the plane appeared to have engine trouble.  It caught fire and sunk in 20 to 30 feet of water.  13 survived but 65 died including Harold.

His parents, Harold Sr. and Ester Dayringer of Route 1, Benson got the news of their son’s death by telegram a few days later.  He was their only child. Harold Jr. was laid to rest at Stevens Chapel Church Cemetery in Benson.

Stranger Gives Dog Tags To Veteran Inside Waffle House  
Earlier this month, a Benson American Legion Post 109 Veteran was sitting in the Benson Waffle House when a stranger approached. The stranger said he had the dog tags of Lance Corporal Dayringer and he wanted to turn them over in hopes they could make their way to his family.  The Veteran accepted the strangers gift and he immediately contacted Johnston County Veterans Service Officer Robert Boyette.

Lance Corporal Harold Vernon Dayringer Jr. of Benson was just 22 years old when he died in a military plane crash on August 24, 1965. Contributed photo

After doing some research, Boyette contacted the pastor at Steven Chapel Church in Benson where Dayringer was buried in 1965.  Within days, the pastor found a phone number for a relative.

On May 27th, during the Memorial Day Ceremony at the Johnston County Courthouse in Smithfield, Kaye Stafford, Carolyn Jernigan and Jean Sterling, all first cousins of Lance Corporal Dayringer, were presented his dog tags. They were still in the same plastic zip lock bag the stranger had kept them in, apparently for a very long time.

Kaye Stafford said she believes the dog tags were returned to Harold’s parents after his death 54 years ago, but somehow got lost.  How the dog tags got into the hands of a stranger is still a mystery.  Regardless, the family is glad to have them and thankful the stranger wanted them returned.

“It makes us feel real proud of him, not that we won’t before,” Kaye Stafford told JoCoReport. “Getting (the dog tags) back brings it all back to you. We’ve very happy.”

Dayringer’s name is on the fallen soldiers monument at the Johnston County Courthouse in Smithfield and on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC.   He was awarded The Combat Action Ribbon, The Purple Heart Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.